Listening vs hearing to improve your child's well-being

Issued by
North West, Mar 24, 2016

It is well known that the purpose of listening is to pay attention to someone or something in order to hear what is being communicated, to process this information and respond to what was being communicated.

Listening strengths and weaknesses play a pivotal role in how communicated messages are being experienced by the person on the receiving end. Through working with the Tomatis Method at the Institute of Psychology and Wellbeing (IPW) at the North-West University, Annelize Bonthuys, a Counselling Psychologist, explains the psychological impact of listening strengths and weaknesses that are of great importance when it comes to the well-being of a child.

"Now it is important to distinguish between hearing and listening. Hearing, which is defined as the passive reception of sound, becomes listening when used intentionally and attentively in a way that is acceptable on an emotional level. A child can therefore have perfect hearing but still struggle to listen."

Listening regulation - the self and others

Bonthuys says all people listen by means of two systems: external and inner listening. "External listening is how we listen to the external world, and inner listening, the manner in which we listen to ourselves. These two systems are both equally important and impact the emotional availability of a child to have a good listening ear. A child that mostly listens to the self may seem withdrawn, quiet, in his/her own world and reserved, where a child that listens mostly to the external world, may seem dependent, easily influenced by peers, and unsure when making decisions."

On a psychological level, the more these two listening systems work together and are balanced, the more able the child is to work independently but also connect with the environment effectively. "We can call this good balanced regulation of listening."

Listening strengths and psychological adjustment

Each day a child's life is filled with opportunities to use their listening skills. Their ears are more ready to accept sound when they experience a pleasant encounter which triggers good feelings and emotions, and at other times less ready to accept when they feel anxious, uncertain and experience an unpleasant emotion.

"This is often seen with children who experience learning and social difficulties. When they feel insecure, uncertain and anxious, they tend to withdraw and hear, but not listen, as a way to protect themselves. This has a direct influence on the child's ability to then pay attention to parents and teachers," Bonthuys says.

The dominant listening ear also plays and important part in how a child listens and reacts, not only to the environment but also to the self. A child who listens predominantly with a right "logical" ear will behave much different from a child who listens with a left "emotional" ear. The same information being communicated is processed differently; for example, when a teacher says: "Children, why are your math books not on your desks already?" The child who listens with the logical ear will most probably think: "I just have not taken it out of my bag yet," and will continue to get out the book and place it on the desk. The child who listens with an emotional ear will most probably think: "I have done something wrong, the teacher is mad at me," and will take even more time before getting the book, as requested. Usually, the teacher will then ask this child to follow the instruction again, which makes it even more difficult for the child to respond.

Bonthuys says by knowing your children's listening strengths and weaknesses, it may help you as a parent to understand why they react the way they do, and you may support the children with the emotional acceptability of messages they receive.

What role do the mother and father's voices play in psychological adjustment in children?

From four-and-a-half months into pregnancy to birth, a child already starts to listen to his/her mother's voice. This is the first communication that sets the foundation for emotional attachment and bonding. When the sound of the mother's voice is pleasantly perceived by the child, his/her listening opens up in order to receive more and creates a secure emotional foundation for listening.

When talking to your child, the following questions should therefore be kept in mind:

* How does my communication (with my spouse and child) affect my child's ability to listen on an emotional level?* Is my child listening with a logical or emotional ear? Does he/she listen to what is being said or how it is being said?* How can I communicate with my child in a more emotional, acceptable manner?

"The role of the father in child development should, however, not be underestimated. The father's voice complements that of the mother in order for the child to reach well-balanced psychological adjustment. The relationship between the parents, how they talk to each other and treat each other, therefore directly impact the developing child on an emotional and psychological level - usually more than what we would think."